Month: September 2015

The Older I Get, The Less I Understand

The older I get the less I seem to understand. I know it is not supposed to be that way. Age is supposed to bring me accrued wisdom and understanding, but it isn’t happening. I feel I’m getting left behind in this age when instant gratification is demanded – but no longer seems fast enough – and old guidelines to sensible conversations and criticisms are abandoned, lost in shouts for retribution rather than resolution.

When I was a young newspaper reporter and columnist we called the government ministry responsible for social services “the ministry of misery”. Not in sarcasm but because misery was what the front line social workers dealt with day after day and, without exaggeration, often night after night.

Things haven’t changed much over the years. Ministry names have changed; ministers have come and gone over the years. Names have changed, rules and regulation have been reviewed and hopefully improved and what was once the ministry for social services is now the Ministry for Children and Family Development. Minister Stephanie Cadieux is in charge.

One thing that hasn’t changed much over the years is the workload of the social workers, those men and women among us who chose social work as a career because they wanted to help the disadvantaged among us, the children and the adults whom life had dealt a miserable hand. As a force they remain the front line workers, handling on our behalf the miseries of the unfortunate overwhelmed by misfortune.

And when things go wrong, as they will in the best of regulated environments, they, the front line workers and their ministry are singled out for accusations hinting at gross neglect which, in a recent case led to the death by defenestration of a teenager.

John Horgan, leader of the NDP which once championed social workers when their first Premier Dave Barrett was among their ranks, immediately bleated a call for the resignation of Minister Cadieux for allowing such inappropriate things to happen. He, and others who should know better, have chirped and chipped around the tragic death of the 18-year old youth, seemingly more intent on harming the government than finding resolution to a difficult problem. Those critics appear to remain oblivious to the damage they inflict on the morale and confidence of those street workers who in good conscience do their best to handle the “social problems” the rest of us prefer not to see.

Not least among the quick-to-blame critics is the intrepid media which feeds the careless sparks of unthinking critics with inflammatory headlines and stories while proudly boasting it’s just “holding government’s feet to the fire”.

The entire critical chorus, especially media, could improve the social services situation if instead of calling for the head of a minister, a department head or a dedicated social worker with a mind numbing case load, it began an incessant demand for all involved to sit down and reason together.

They may never find a solution but they would, together, surely find understanding. And, who knows, maybe they could pass that understanding on to me.

How About Reality Politics?

Well, that didn’t take long. The three Musketeers’ – Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair – had hardly vanished in the fading blip of switched-off TV sets when the new round of promised spending moved up a notch.

With his cold-water-tap smile flickering briefly on usually angry lips Tom Mulcair renewed NDP promises to end unemployment, provide child care for every working mother at no more than $15 a day, and earmark $2.6 billion for a universal prescription drug program.

And he will do it all while balancing budgets every year during his term of office – if the NDP gets the nod from the electorate on October 19. Readers who believe he can accomplish all he is promising should vote NDP; readers who feel he doesn’t yet deserve “reality show” rating should look elsewhere.

It should be noted that a universal drug coverage plan has sputtered on many a political party back burner since health care came into being and that Elizabeth May and the Green Party, flushed it front and centre in the current election campaign – long before Mulcair.

Poli-watchers with long memories will recall the genuinely held early ambitions of Dennis Cocke, when as minister of health in Barrett’s government (1972-75) he dreamed of universal dental care to twin general health care. It was one his great disappointments that he could never find a financial formula taxpayers would have found affordable.

It is important that Mulcair and his NDP candidates tell us where they expect to raise the $2.6 billion – almost double Prime Minister Harper’s $1.9 billion now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t budget surplus – without raising taxes.

Speaking of Prime Minister Harper I wonder who advised him to keep the budget surplus – known since the end of March when the last fiscal year ended – secret for so long? Because it was useful vote-getter during the election campaign? Come, come Mr. Harper, we voters are not as slow on the uptake as your imagine. We accepted month after month of sad economic news and the need to hold spending in check.

We had our doubts when we were told cuts were needed in so many federal services – including the armed forces, the Coast Guard – and even postal delivery to name but a few. We grumbled, but accepted – until we learned the $1.9 billion had been saved at great cost to services and benefits to military veterans, seniors, First Nations and so many others. And more than a few us now have reservations about a Prime Minister who behaves more and more like a US Republican President.

The last of the three Musketeers, Liberal Justin Trudeau didn’t fare much better than his rivals in two hours of TV but he did seem a little more realistic.

Every hamlet, village, town and city in Canada is suffering minor ,or all too often , major infrastructure, breakdowns. Roads with potholes, bridges approaching replacement dates, public buildings in need of upgrade or replacement, parks and recreation centres in need of expansion and renewal

Trudeau’s promised plan to address nation-wide infrastructure problems as a job creator is sound. If organized and administered wisely it would create thousands of jobs from labourers to highly skilled engineers and technicians and be of incredible benefit nation-wide. He also announced how his government would raise the cash to pay the bills – a tax increase for the one percent highest income earners in the country, increased revenues from the increases workforce and increases export sales.

And three years of “modest deficit budgets.” That sends a warning shudder through our bones and rival electioneers shouted loud about the debt our young people would have to pay if Trudeau’s Liberals have their way.

It’s true there would be a bill, but at least it was honestly stated. Present generations of taxpayers have a historic penchant for spending and leaving the next group up to bat to pick up the tab. The generation before mine did it, and when we “old Canadians” finally shuffle off with some of our “governance” bills unpaid, it can be guaranteed our children and their children will do the same to whoever succeeds them..

My generation has built on foundations put in place by really “old Canadians”. Despite the never-ending chaos in other parts of the world, I think we live in a pretty good space; and I think our successors will build on what we leave them and make it even better.

Especially if they insist their political leaders deal with realities.

Three Acres And a Cow

We haven’t reached the “three acres and a cow” promise yet but we can expect it – or maybe a revival of “a chicken in every pot” – before October 19 when the current promise contest ends in Canada.

Not that we ever refer to a general election as a promise contest. We prefer to puff our chests and boast about the democratic process while solemnly listening to three men and a woman endlessly promising how they will spend the next four years improving our life-style – if we elect them. All they want is to serve, to make life better for us sluggers in the trenches if we just give them a chance.

Unfortunately for politicians the electorate has refined its tastes since the 1800’s when “three acres and a cow” first became a popular political campaign slogan. It was still popular in the early 1900’s when it became an amusing but never believed whisper of a promise to soldiers who survived WW1. Since then voters have become increasingly skeptical about election promises although I have a feeling the promise of three acres and a cow would still be welcomed by the electorate – as long as it came with funding to hire someone to care for the three acres, milk the cow and process the milk.

In the United States where bigger has always been believed to be better, and where they had room to make the most grandiose of promises the slogan during the Civil War (1861-65) became “Forty acres and a mule” promised freed slaves. Not that slaves had a vote, but they were too large and potentially dangerous in numbers to be ignored without a bribe. The promise was believed, and some effort was extended to make the dream a reality, but like so many flamboyant political promises truth proved to be illusory.

In its brief history of “Forty acres and a mule” Wikipedia notes: “Many freedmen believed they were told by various political figures they had a right to own the land they had long worked as slaves…but Federal state policy (after the war) emphasized wage labour, not land ownership, for African Americans.”

I love that phrase “many freedmen believed” used in conjunction with “but Federal state policy” later changed and a dream vanished. We are not so trusting – but the politicians of all stripes continue to think we are.

We laugh at their promises – whether they’re are coming from Conservative (in every way and late in the day) Stephen Harper; NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, with a switched on smile that barely hides bad temper; Liberal Justin Trudeau, with a half-smile show of youthful apology that he’s having to bother voters on sunny day; or Elizabeth May with a promise of evergreen acres but no mention (yet) of a cow or “a chicken in every pot”. We laugh because we know as the English people and the American slaves came to know, that when the “war” is over the promises being made will be forgotten – or the words now being spoken will have different meaning.

We have about a month to go before we vote, a month of promises never to be fulfilled. So, who to vote for? Bernard Baruch,(1870-1965) who served many years as an advisor to USA Presidents, offers the plausible suggestion that the candidate who makes the least promises will be the least disappointing if elected.

It’s worth a thought. Come voting day vote for the person you think will take integrity to Ottawa, will represent you honestly – and will promise only what he or she can deliver.

We Can Hate Them, But We Need Them

Just before the federal election in 2011 major environmental organizations held polls in British Columbia to see how voters felt about oil tanker traffic in BC Coastal waters. The results were impressive with 80 percent favouring a legislated ban.

New Democrats and the Green Party were careful to call for tankers to be banned from “northern coastal waters”, others like ForestEthics, a non-profit environmental organization with volunteer staffed offices in Canada and the USA, were a little broader in the ban zone. Its web page at the time said the 80 per cent ban call meant it was now time to see “this opposition translated into a full, legislated crude oil tanker ban for BC’s coastal waters.”

Other environmentalists drew the attention of all candidates in the May election to the 80 per cent ban-tankers vote and suggested dire things would happen to those who ignored the obvious wishes of the people. Liberal leader Michael Ignatief promptly announced he would move to implement such a ban if he became prime minister. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, openly supported tanker traffic. On election day Ignatief’s Liberals, were demolished, Harper’s Conservatives won a majority, have been arrogant in their triumph ever since and largely ignore the tanker transit debate.

In the past few months the oil tanker traffic debate, which many thought won back in 1972 when Canada and the USA came to agreement on tanker routes well away from the northern BC coast line, has again erupted with renewed confusion. Make that “with renewed confusion for me” because for the life of me I can’t understand how tanker traffic off our rugged northern coast can be more environmentally hazardous than ever present tanker traffic off our rugged southern coast.

The debate today is focused on the Enbridge proposal to build a pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat from which port Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) could be shipped world- wide with China the prime recipient. Opponents to the project are articulate, well organized and accurate in their claim that increased tanker traffic means increased risk of accident and subsequent threat to our rugged northern coastline. Of course it does, increased traffic on highway, ocean, or in the air, always increases of accident.

What isn’t talked about so much are the already existing hazards off our southern coastal waters, those we enjoy watching from Dallas Road as tankers, freighters, ferries and cruise ships move up and down and across the Strait. Do we ever view those freighters, tankers, barges, ferries, hustling back and forth as hazards? Or is scenic marine traffic something we’ve just become used to – and we know we can’t do without?

We may lament the presence of oil tankers, may even have voted for them to be banned when the polls were taken, without giving a thought to life without tankers or the huge oil barges bringing us our daily shots of the fuel we love to hate. Life without the internal combustion engine would undoubtedly be better for the health of us all, but disastrous to modern demands of society and commerce. Sure we could live without oil and gasoline, but would we really enjoy life without the convenience of the automobile for pleasure and business? And would the banning of just tankers guarantee an end to oil spills or other marine disasters?

Between 1997 and 2003 the Canadian Coast Guard studied the coastal environment of BC and came up with some interesting statistics on marine traffic. It reported tankers carrying liquid cargo, primarily oil, averaged 2,739 trips a year in the Vancouver, Victoria and Strait of Juan de Fuca zones and comprised one per cent of all traffic. Another 1,278 tankers carrying liquid chemicals, including petroleum or natural gas, traversed the same zones for another one per cent of total traffic.

Sounds a lot until you read that bulk cargo freighters carrying cars, grain, ore, etc; averaged 29,253 trips for seven per cent of the traffic; tugs, towing or propelling barges, totalled. 117,319 or 29 percent; fishing vessels, including catching, processing or transporting under the Fisheries Act, 11,078 or three per cent; vessels not included in any other category, 19,541 or five per cent.

And then the big one: Passenger vessels, including ferry and cruise ships, 229,095 – or 56 per cent of the average annual vessel movements of 401,301 individual threats to our southern coastal waters. Each one carried bunker oil, diesel or gasoline for its own movements; each one vulnerable to accident with potential disastrous results – and until we can say goodbye to the internal combustion engine each one remains important to our well being, including the tankers we can hate for their hazard but can’t do without